Seville may open door for EU force

Prime Minister Costas Simitis left for Seville yesterday, hoping to return from the two-day EU summit in Spain with a solution that will allow Athens to agree to the operations of the EU’s rapid reaction force. Greece objects to Turkey having a say in the operations of the force, in accordance with a deal reached by the United States, Britain and Turkey in exchange for Ankara’s allowing it to use NATO assets. Athens wants an assurance that the so-called «Ankara text» will include an assurance that no NATO member, such as Turkey, will be allowed to attack an EU member. Simitis discussed Athens’s strategic options at a Cabinet meeting yesterday. He knows that at the present, difficult time for the government it is absolutely necessary for him to return to Athens with a deal that leaves no room for questioning by either opposition parties or PASOK backbenchers. This is illustrated by the fact that the prime minister met on Tuesday with his communications team to discuss how to handle the issue, whether or not agreement is reached in Seville. On Monday, Foreign Minister George Papandreou made clear to Greece’s EU partners that Athens would persist until its demand was met. According to sources, the EU’s Spanish presidency and Washington have worked intensively on the issue in recent weeks and have shown understanding for the Greek position. In their contacts with the Greek side, they have also indicated they are close to persuading Turkey to accept the addition of Athens’s demand in the second paragraph of the Ankara text. This has allowed Greek government sources to hint that a solution is close. The same sources, however, stress that close is not the same as definitive and that negotiations will continue with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Foreign Minister Josep Pique as well as EU security chief Javier Solana. They expect that the issue will not be raised at the EU leaders’ dinner unless agreement is reached, or in case the partners decide to intensify pressure on Simitis. Athens want to see the problem resolved in the next two days so that it is not carried over into the Danish presidency, which begins on July 1.